J.S. Ondara (from the album Tales of America available on Verve/Forecast)
The thumping bass line is the beat that soundtracks an “American Dream”, the cut that J.S. Ondara picks as the first journal entry on Tales of America, the recent release from the musician. Originally from Nairobi, Kenya, J.S. Ondara moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota to begin his U.S. musical career in the same spot as the songwriting hero he found at a young age, Bob Dylan. Built by acoustic instrumentation, Tales of America mirrors early Dylan releases with the stripped-down guitar/voice delivery of “Master O’Connor” while front porch Folk strums match the reverie channeled on “Television Girl” and rhythm causes a spark as “Torch Song” watches its melody catch fire.
Recorded in Los Angeles at Boulevard Recording and East West Studios, Tales of Americabrings in U.S. native sons to help with the album when J.S. Ondara is joined by Andrew Bird, Taylorand Griffin Goldsmith (Dawes) andJoey Ryan (The Milk Carton Kids). An easy sway guides the shuffle of “Lebanon” as J.S.Ondara asks “Good Question” on whispered guitar chords, puts a heartbeat groove under the farewell in “Saying Goodbye”, and relies solely on his voice to tell the story of “Turkish Bandana” as Tales of Americaknocks on the doors of US borders as the album exits on a refugee’s prayer with “God Bless America”.
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Glen Hansard (from the album This Wild Wilding on Plateau Records/Anti- Records)
Tapping into his past sonic successes, Glen Hansard uses his recent release, This Wild Wilding, as an audio spinning wheel, the tracks landing on ethereal Folk dreamscapes (“Fool’s Game”), as fragile notes strewn on delicate acoustics (“Threading Water”), stern marches (“Don’t Settle”), slowly unfurling clouds of Celtic-tinted melodies (“Good Life of Song”), and dark, anxious rhythms (“The Closing Door”). Garnering an Oscar over a decade ago for the song he performed (and wrote) for the film, Once, Glen Hansard make music as part of bands before the trophy and entering a solo career, forming The Frames in his native Dublin, Ireland in the early 1990’s and the duo, The Swell Season, which led to his movie work. All the facets of past musical endeavors make their influence felt in the sonic inventiveness of This Wild Wilding.
A Jazz noir in the style of a Tim Buckley song hosts the musical contemplations the carry “Weight of the World” as an effervescent rumble frolics underneath the hopes in “Brother’s Keeper” and a heavy-hearted beat prods and pokes the whispered threats of “I’ll Be You, Be Me”. Glen Hansard makes a musical pastiche of This Wild Wilding, stitching snippets of song together, stating that ‘this collection of songs is mainly made up of those that came through while improvising and following the melodic lines and threads. Sometimes when you take a small musical fragment and you care for it, follow it and build it up slowly, it can become a thing of wonder’. A revolving rhythm turns the groove in the vaguely mid-eastern tones of “Race to the Bottom” and a flurry of notes sparkle as “Mary” enters This Wild Wilding as Glen Hansard scatters his vision of the future over the free-floating soundscape of “Who’s Gonna Be Your Baby Now” and exits the album on gently plucked notes and breaths of sound for the tender request in “Leave a Light”.
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Dawn Landes (from the E.P. My Tiny Twilight available on Yep Roc Records)
Sepia tones and subtle touches of instrumentation are wisps curling around the vocals of Dawn Landes on her recent E.P. release, My Tiny Twilight. The songs drift in a musical mist across My Tiny Twilight soundscape, Dawn Landes following a two-note defined rhythm, promising ‘anything to ease your pain’ as she makes an appeal in “Baby Please” as she sends a kiss into the night sky on “I’m Wishing on a Star” and traipses behind a toy piano’s clarion call into sleep with “Hushabye”.
Country wisdom is behind the words for “Everybody Dream” when Dawn Landes makes the chorus a singalong as she lists facts such as ‘you can’t have a pony in the city’ while she opens My Tiny Twilight with a whispered “Hello”. Strutting into Mother’s Day week with a handclapped beat, Dawn Landes makes the power of voice all that is needed for both the rhythms and the proclamations of “I’m Your Mama”.
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Hacienda Brothers (from the album Western Soul available on Lux Records)
Serving as a reminder, Western Soul collects unreleased tracks from Hacienda Brothers, the sixteen cuts recalling the near-perfection of the band in their beginnings. A Hacienda Brothers song is a pop-up honky tonk, the music spilling like cosmic country honey from Western Soul when timid guitar notes pick out a path for the claims in “I’ve Got a Secret” while a Cajun rhythm adds some twang for the celebration as a story of “Bayou Bum”. Hacienda Brothers toss out some rock’n’roll jangle to head for the exit in “Leavin’ Town as well as offering an acoustic version of Bobby Bare cut.
Studio tracks, demos, alternate takes, and rough mixes make up the song listing for Western Soul. With only four albums released, Hacienda Brothers passed with the death of co-founder, Chris Gaffney.Western Soul, produced by founding member Dave Gonzalez when Dave, along with Chris Gaffney entered the studio to record tracks by band favorite singers, reconditioning the Tammy Wynette hit “Don’t Touch Me”, Johnny Paycheck’s “Or Is It Love”, Lynn Anderson’s “Hey Virginia”, and The Intruders “Cowboys to Girls”. The Hacienda Brothers debut album was recorded by legendary producer/songwriter Dan Penn, the songs on Western Soul the hooks that caught Penn’s ear for the band sound. Joined by the crew that had backed them on the road for a year, Dave Gonzalez and Chris Gaffney entered the studio with songs, worked out by touring bandmates Dave Berzansky on steel, Hank Maninger on bass and Dale Daniel on drums. Western Soul leaves voice mail messages and studio snippets of conversation in the final mix that add to the charm of the album as the music spins memories of songs as well as a band to be remembered. Hacienda Brothers count time passing on a classic country beat in “A Lot of Days are Gone” and offer a tune for “Tucson”, singing a tribute backed a by a Tex Mex border sway.
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Mile Twelve (from the album City on a Hill available on Delores the Taurus Records)
A variety of topics tell the stories on City on a Hill,the recent release from Mile Twelve. Telling tales is a tradition in song, Mile Twelve up the ante on customized collections with City on a Hill as they tackle tougher-than-most subjects, wearing the skin of a soldier returning to real life as they fall backwards into the nighttime dreams of “Jericho”. A criminal on the run hops on board a runaway rhythm with “Innocent Again” while a somber melody sees beneath the lies in “Good Times Every Night” as Mile Twelve strum a groove into the traveling rhythms of “Where We Started”.
Maintaining a balance between the past and future of string bands, Mile Twelve erase any distinct lines that mark differences as City on a Hill stands tall for future rhythms in Bluegrass (“City That Drowned”) as a flurry of notes create moods in music instrumentally (“Rialto”), and recalls the magic of street corner busking (“Journey’s End”). A flurry of ragtag notes opens City on a Hill, Mile Twelve pulling the sound together when they stride into Richard Thompson’s “Down Where the Drunkards Roll” as the band follows the song to its natural progression with “Barefoot in Jail”.
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Tony Campanella (from the album Taking It to the Streets available on Gulf Coast Records)
The title track leads the charge when Tony Campanella kicks down the doors and plows into his recent release Taking It to the Streets. The Blues drives the sound of Taking It to the Streets, purring like a big cat on the prowl when the album hits the highway in “Got My Motor Running” as Tony Campanella shifts into overdrive on the caffeinated rhythms of Otis Rush’s “Checking on My Baby”, tips his hat to “Mr. Cleanhead” in a version of the Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson cut, and slows the pace to crawl for the confessions of “One Foot in the Blues”.
When co-founding his new record label, Mike Zito turned to longtime buddy, St. Louis, Missouri bluesman, Tony Campanella as a model musician for the Gulf Coast Records imprint. The success of the decision can be heard in the feral come-on of Sonny Boy Williamson III’s “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” as Tony Campanella chews on the Blues in “Texas Chainsaw”, accuses with “You Don’t Know”, and makes his point on a chopped-up funk rhythms on “Finger on the Trigger” while Taking It to the Streetsexits with a Sunday morning Blues prayer in “Those are the Times”.
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Pearl Harbor & The Explosions (from the album Pearl Harbor & The Explosions available on Blixa Sound)
The fact that this 1980 gem has remained under the radar its entire life is a mystery. Then again, the music business and the listeners ability to consume so much junk that lies beyond the good stuff is also a mystery. The remastered and reissued self-titled debut from San Francisco’s Pearl Harbor & The Explosions may finally have its day some 29 years after its initial release, a day well deserved. Pearl Harbor & The Explosions,led by front-woman Pearl E. Gates (aka Pearl Harbor) hits on the musical innovation of 1980’s Indie Rock, from the snappy Joe Jackson-style precision to the spikey energy of SoCal punks, X. This is an album loaded with songs that will take squatter rights in your head with no intention of leaving, and you find yourself just fine with your new tenants.
The opener in the cut “Drivin’” sets the pace of hook after hook, with things really kicking into high gear on “Don’t Come Back”, a tune with highlights such as a ripping guitar solo that comes in a flurry of quick punches. “Shut Up and Dance” is a spastic single, begging for a crowded club singing along to the chorus of ‘shut up, shut up, shut up and dance’. “So Much for Love” moves into ballad territory with clever word-play, where Pearl Harbor knocks songs about Ipanema, trying tenderness, and those people whose aims may or may not be true. The remastered and reissued treatment comes complete with B-Sides and live cuts, odd covers and a throwback radio spot from 1979. Any punk or new-wave collection that features The Jam or Devo needs this record.
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Orville Peck (from the album Pony on Sub Pop Records)
The melodies drift in a dream through Pony, the recent release from Orville Peck. Sonically, Pony is a Roots/Americana variation on the moods and musical themes of a David Lynch soundtrack, Orville Peck comfortable in a twin Peaks ambiance. Big clouds of chords form its musical backing before “Kansas (Remembers Me Now)” loses its signal and dissolves into static as the track makes an exit. Pony parks in Carson City to tell its story on album opener, “Dead of Night” while the sparkle of the notes in “Nothing Fades Like the Light” dim into a quiet musical reverie and the guitar joins with the banjo to toss out big fat audio raindrops from “Big Sky”.
The stage setting for Pony is a long desert highway stretching through the windshield into forever, the sound of the album joining a cast of fringe dwellers captured in the sweeping stories presented as sagas on the recording. Orville Peck is the guide for words and music, producing the tunes and fronting the album as masked crooner unpacking a suitcase full of cowboy tales of love and loss. As the sound melts around Orville Peck, “Roses Are Falling” speaks its condemnation against a stark backing of a drifting lead guitar, harmonica, and persistent rhythm. Pony lets its guitar strings fly free when “Winds Change” pulls the curtain on a spaghetti western soundtrack underneath a tale born in the legends of the old west. Orville Peck leads haunted choral vocals over the ghostly melody of “Old River” and scatters out a shuffling rhythm to welcome “Queen of the Rodeo” as he walks tall on the dark trudges defining the beat in “Hope to Die”. Pony hops a train-track groove for the fractured Country and Western memories of “Take You Back (The Iron Hoof Cattle Call)” while Orville Peck encourages “Buffalo Run” to pick up speed over runaway downhill rhythms.
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The Rayo Brothers (from the album Victim and Villain available on Nouveau Electric Records)
The Reaux brothers, Daniel and Jesse, began life as The Rayo Brothers to join a songwriter competition in their native Lafayette, Louisiana. Words and music are still front and center when The Rayo Brothers open Victim & Villain(their recent release) with guitar chords and the reading of a lost love letter in “Colorado” while the beat gives “Hard to Tell” marching orders and a banjo percolates over the Rock friendly groove of “Darkroom”.
A rhythmic sway guides the title track, the gentle motion cradling the confessions and hopes of The Rayo Brothers as their tale creates the link between “Victim and Villain”. Rock’n’Roll Pop bursts like a confetti shot to bid farewell in “Goodbye Jane” while Victim & Villain holds back trials and tribulations with “One Good Day”, sticks sharp-picked notes on the sibling-harmony of “The House I Hate”, and walks through “The Dream” amid cascading clouds of sonics while The Rayo Brothers toast on the traditional tune “Rye Whiskey”, joined by Andre Michot and album producer Louis Michot.
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Spiral Stairs (from the album We Wanna Be Hyp-No-tized available on Nine Mile Records)
Finding success early in his career with Pavement, the band he co-founded, Scott Kannberg has discovered gems over the course of time that his younger-self musical arrogance had buried deep under his own idea of art. The music made its way through, however, and under the moniker of Spiral Stairs, the recent release We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tizedtranslates sounds from the past into song. The tracks on the album are backed by a Rock’n’Roll band, Spiral Stairs fleshing out “The Fool” with a solid backbeat and guitar jangle as We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized lays down a marching rhythm for “Borderline”, chews up the beat with quick chord chops behind the story in “Them Cold Eyes”, and pens a letter in “Dear Husband”, dotted by tapped out notes and crossed with thick reverbed riffs.
Spiral Stairs tributes the new sounds that came into his record collection, barely containing the joy of his discovery when he described the process, saying ‘I’m talking things like the first two Nick Lowe records – I’m fucking obsessed by that shit, they’re beautiful, beautiful songs on those records. Then he led me to this guy Jim Ford who’s like a weird country-soul singer, he’s so good. And I’ve really got into Van Morrison way deeper than I’ve ever got into Van Morrison before. YouTube is the greatest thing ever because you can find everything that you want – I can read about a Van Morrison bootleg from 1982 or something that’s supposed to be the greatest thing ever and you can find it on YouTube! So I got into that 1973 album Veedon Fleece, and then of course Roxy Music stuff and Brian Ferry. But I think the influences on this are definitely Nick Lowe and Van Morrison – I even tried to sing like Van Morrison on a lot of the songs, like how he repeats himself a lot. Those are the kind of bands I would never have liked in 1984… or 1994… or 2004 really’. Bare bones build the framework for “Hold On (‘til I figure It out)”, the pounding beat forming a hefty foundation for its ‘communicate with love’ mantra. Horns, a weaving guitar lead, and sturdy rhythm open the album, referencing We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized in the community chorus of “Hypnotized”. Soul stirs the melody when “Diario” tells its story with a slight twang while Spiral Stairs crawls on a thick back bayou beat over “Swampland”.
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